Last week I wrote about all of the things that can go wrong when it comes to the Triathlon. Weather can be bad, equipment can malfunction, the athlete can have an “off” day in any one of the three disciplines. Such is the nature of the triathlon beast when it comes to Swimming, Biking and Running.
That’s also why this pursuit creates such a great draw for many competitors and endurance athletes. It is these other factors that make the event unique and so difficult to predict performance.
Heading into my first triathlon since my, well, first triathlon last July – I felt much more relaxed as I went off to sleep on Saturday night. No night terrors about the open water swim or how my transitions would go. I packed everything in the truck and my transition bag – all that I would have to do in the morning would be to get my water bottles out of the freezer, grab my run watch from the charger and we would be headed off to Decker Lake.
I dozed off to sleep quickly around 1o:00 p.m., not a peep from Landry, we were getting some great pre-race rest.
At 12:34 a.m. – CRASH.
Thunder, Lightening, hard rain against the windows. My mind flashed back to the weather in Boston. All I could think was, “you have GOT to be kidding me.”
Surely by the time I got up at 4:45 to start getting ready the rain will have stopped.
So I hopped into the shower, got the muscles nice and loose under the warm water, dried off, applied body glide to all the usual areas and got dressed in my race gear. I grabbed an extra ball cap to wear as I checked in my bike to keep rain off of me and a long sleeve shirt to keep me warm. I grabbed my run watch, my water bottles and cooler, phone, wallet and went out to the garage. Surely the rain would be letting up by now.
I grabbed a couple large garbage bags to cover up my seat and my crankset to try to keep them dry on the drive to the lake and started the journey right on time at 5:30 a.m.
All the way down the rain continued. Not slacking up a bit. The race course was going to be a bloody mess.
I arrived on location at 6:05, parked the truck and grabbed my bike to head over to body marking and the transition area to rack my bike. I would have plenty of time to go back, get my transition bag and set up once the rain stopped. It was going to stop right?
I got marked with 237 down both arms and on the front of both quadricepts for identification and pictures. I also got a big 45 marked on the back of my right calf for my Age Group. Still a couple of months away from my 45th birthday, for the triathlon you race as your age as of December 31 of the current year. So on Sunday, my first event as a 45-year-old and a new age group (45-49), I said goodby to the only age group I’ve really ever known, Men 40-44.
The rain did not want to stop. I went back to the truck to wait it out, deciding that I would head back over to the transition area whether it was still raining or not at 7:15 a.m., which would give me enough time to get situated before transition closed at 7:30.
With rain still falling and the ground getting soft and muddy, I went back in at 7:15 and laid out my transition area.
Towel on the ground, bike shoes open with my socks rolled up and placed inside of them.
Helmet on the aero bars upside down, strap unbuckled, glasses inside.
Race flats on the towel, open with my run watch on top of them, my race number for the run on my belt on top of them and my run visor on top of everything.
I put the pedals of my bike the way I wanted to mount them and ran a rubber band through the left pedal to the front of the bike to hold it steady as I jumped on and clipped in.
I strapped in my water bottle to the front of my bars as it was now starting to thaw out. By race time it should be thawed, but still nice and cold when I jumped on the bike after the swim.
I pumped up my race tires to 115 lbs., laid more towels over everything to try to keep it as dry as possible and went down to the lake for our safety briefing.
The race organizers postponed the race start by 30 minutes to allow the storms in the area to move away from the lake. Lightening and triathlons do not mix. Smart move on the part of the Directors. Finally at 8:30 the first wave of open men were in the water ready to do their thing.
We would be one of the later waves with a start time of 9:14.
I went back to the truck one more time, got my goggles and swim cap – ready to go.
After the Men under 40 group took off I moved into the pack of over 40-year-old men in our silver swim caps. I decided that I would start a little bit closer to the front of the swim this time to avoid swimming into anyone in front of me. This is a tough decision, among the toughest in all of the triathlon to me as if you are too far back you can’t find clean water to swim in, all you have in front of you are bodies.
If you are too far up, the faster swimmers gobble you up, push your legs down and swim literally right over you. Not good.
I was trying to thread the needle this time and hang to the right so I would have open water to my breathing side. This would make me have to swim a little “wider” around the buoys, but I would rather swim an extra 30 meters in clean water than make all the tangents but get clobbered along the way.
The spectators counted us down, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – Horn!
With a push off I took a few strokes and the water felt nice and warm. One benefit of standing out in the rain all morning was the fact that the air was basically the same temperature as the water – 72 degrees.
The first 50 meters or so felt like I was straining, I hadn’t found my rhythm yet – I just told myself to relax and stay calm. This is the same feeling as I have in every swim, the first 100 meters are always clunky. I didn’t have a chance for a warm-up as they didn’t want us in the water before the TRI with the storm around – so my warm-up was in race conditions. So much for perfect planning on Sunday. There would be another surprise later.
I bumped into a couple of swimmers, and was getting kicked a bit too close to my face, so I swung out a little wider around a swimmer and at the 150 meter buoy I had nice, beautiful clean water. Amazing.
I swam around the final buoy, navigated a little bit of congestion and started to pull to the finish. My arrival at the mat was just about perfect as there were no other swimmers near me, I was able to “swim it in” all the way, and not have to stand up and wait to exit.
Swim time: 7:07.
Time to move.
There is a long hill to run up to the transition area at Decker Lake. This was good practice for my next two events out there “Couples” in July and our Half-Ironman in October. The run up was about 2/10 of a mile. Unfortunately with all of the rain and the hundreds of athletes who had run up before us – the hill was muddy and treacherous.
I was able to pass a couple of athletes from my wave on the run up, but was not able to really hammer away in bare feet on slippery ground.
I ran into the transition area and got ready to bike.
I decided to take care of my feet first, toweled them off the best I could, put on sock, cycling shoe, sock, cycling shoe. Now I could stand in front of the bike and get moving. Glasses on, Helmet on, I threw off the garbage bags from my seat and crankset, pulled the bike down and made my way to the bike exit.
Transition 1 time – 2:27.
About :30 slower than I hoped, but with the long run up and extra steps – not a bad transition overall.
I hit the bike mount line and started to really fire on the pedals. Hit 20 mph within 2/10 of a mile and immediately started reeling in the cyclists ahead of us. I tested the brakes quickly, just to get some moisture off of our race wheels and my brake pads, then kept hammering away.
We were riding the exact route of the Decker Challenge Half Marathon. I knew every hill and every turn. There were plenty of both ahead, but I felt very comfortable for being on a race course that I had never cycled on.
The first five miles were rolling with a few tough climbs – mph splits were: 21.9, 20.1, 22.8, 25.0, 21.3.
We were hammering along after making the right on Lindell Road approaching a tight right turn and then the first major climb. I was going to have to be on the small front ring to make it to the top of the next hill, so I hit the left lever and dropped into the small ring.
All of a sudden my legs went bugs bunny – zzzzzzzzzzzzzz went my gearing.
I had dropped my chain. With all the moisture it had flown right off the ring down onto the frame.
With a, “you have to be kidding me!” – I unclipped, stopped the bike and dismounted. I reached down, grabbed the oily chain and threw it back over the small ring. I remounted, clipped in and stood on the pedals to get moving again. The last mile before we were going to have to really do some major climbing – instead of another mile at 23 -24 mph, my speed:
18.2. I lost about 45 seconds to the clock.
We hit the first long climb and kept picking off riders in front of us with a mile at 19.3 mph.
On the next downhill section we hammered away at 26.3 mph reaching our top speed of the day going down the largest descent at 35.4 mph.
There was a long climb ahead a downhill section, then “quadzilla” – the last climb before we would make it back to transition. I stayed in the saddle as much as I could, tried to stay aero and gradually real in the cyclists ahead of us. I had not seen another athlete over 40 in quite awhile. I was not sure that I was riding in first place in our age group – but I knew that if I was not, I had to be in the top 2 or 3.
We made the final turn to transition, kept hammering away up the last small hill to the entrance to the park and hit the brakes at the dismount line.
Total time 33:21 – 20.1 mph.
I ran the bike in, found my spot on the rack and slid the back seat over the railing. A quick look around the rack and I saw one bike already there. One athlete was on the run course in front of me.
I took off my helmet, placed it on my handlebars, put in my riding glasses, took off my bike shoes, slid into my race flats and clipped on my number belt. I grabbed my run watch off of the ground and started to put it on my wrist.
Just that second my friend Brian who was racing out of the under 40 group who started just ahead of our wave ran alongside me. “Funny seeing you here” he said, and we exited transition together.
Transition 2 Time: 1:20 – pretty solid.
With a quick nod to Brian we exited transition and started onto the run course. Unfortunately this was a cross country course with grass, rutted trails and large wood chip sections. Not a road course like we are used to running. I would not be able to just shut off my mind and run to an uncomfortable level – pushing as hard as we could go as I had to navigate the terrain carefully.
In the first 1/2 mile I felt my legs starting to come back to me a bit. I just kept churning and looking for a runner with a 4X number written on their right calf. My first split came in at 3:19 or basically 6:40 pace.
We started up an ascent, the only hill on the run course and on my right I saw it. A runner with 46 on his right calf.
He was running along at a pace that seemed close to 8:00 min./mile.
I dropped the hammer up the hill.
We made the turn downhill onto a woodchip section where I had to slow things down just a bit to make sure I kept my footing. 3:26 was my second half-mile split, followed by a near identical 3:27.
Finally we exited onto a path that was somewhat paved – I dropped the cadence down to 6:11 pace and closed the run out strong – nobody on my back.
12:53 for the run. Just :08 slower than my goal pre-race.
Overall time was 57:11.
1st place Male 45-49,
5th among all men running in the Rookie Division.
We missed out on overall 1st place Rookie Masters by just :07 seconds. The chain.
Super happy with the way the race unfolded, we battled a lot of adversity, a little bad luck but didn’t cave in, didn’t back down. I have that feeling in just about every running race I enter, but it was good to dig deep during a TRI and even though I had a setback, I didn’t let it ruin the rest of my bike or my run.
If I am going to continue to race triathlons, things are going to go wrong – that is just the nature of the beast. Good to know that you don’t have to let it ruin your day – all you have to do is keep pushing.